Rugby Union: Cooke guards against truth: Steve Bale reports from Twickenham on the England manager's view of Springbok strengths and weaknesses

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The Independent Online
THERE has never been an occasion in rugby history when England have not gone in against South Africa in trepidation - and sometimes perhaps outright fear - but, after Geoff Cooke damned the tourists with the faintest of praise at Twickenham yesterday, it is clear he has no doubts who is going to win on 14 November - always assuming the game goes ahead.

The England manager was so unguardedly critical that he had to stop 'because I don't want to incriminate myself'. The Springboks were 'no mugs. They are strong, hard and have an ability to pick up points' . . . and that was just about all there was in their favour beyond those rugby perennials, pride and commitment.

Cooke had been in Paris with the coach, Dick Best, for last Saturday's second France-South Africa Test and was suitably unimpressed with the tourists' desperate 29-15 defeat. 'Our greatest danger is complacency,' Cooke said. (The last time they were accused of complacency they lost to Scotland in the 1990 Grand Slam match.)

'I couldn't see from watching Saturday's game how on earth South Africa won the first game in Lyons. There's no point in masking the truth. There's no point pretending South Africa are something they are not. They are clearly a very limited side.'

Cooke puts this down to the obvious: long years of isolation from international rugby which had the twin effect of undermining the standard of Springboks rugby and, as importantly, making the South Africans think they were better than they really were. Even so, England will have to do better than they did when they beat Canada the day the Boks were winning in Lyons.

'They will now be looking at their visit to England and particularly the game here as the big event of the tour,' Cooke said. 'They have been beaten by Australia, New Zealand and now France and the only thing that will salvage any pride out of this whole experience is to beat England at Twickenham. I don't actually think they can on the evidence we have seen so far.

'That's not to underestimate them. We know we could lose the game, because it's one thing thinking that you are a better side than the opposition; it's quite another to go out and prove it. It's still a very big game for England; in many ways it's now bigger than ever because it's quite clearly a game England cannot afford to lose.'

The South Africans will face five full internationals when they make their debut in England against the Midlands, led by Dean Richards, at Leicester a week tomorrow. No members of the England B team, still to be announced, to play the tourists at Bristol on Saturday week are included in the divisional side.

Adri Geldenhuys has had his comeuppance. The South African lock, who provoked fury in France for laying out Abdel Benazzi in the first Test, will not play again on tour because his left hand - the one that hit Benazzi - has not healed. He is being replaced by Philip Schutte, who has been summoned from the South African development tour in Western Samoa and will arrive on Sunday.

MIDLANDS (v South Africa, Leicester, 4 November): J Liley; S Hackney, S Potter, I Bates (all Leicester), H Thorneycroft; J Steele (both Northampton), A Kardooni (Leicester); M Linnett (Moseley), J Olver, G Pearce (both Northampton), M Johnson (Leicester), M Bayfield (Northampton), P Shillingford (Moseley), D Richards (Leicester, capt), R Tebbutt (Northampton). Replacements: F Packman, M Dawson (both Northampton), R Cockerill (Leicester), T Revan (Rugby), S Lloyd (Moseley), P Thomas (Coventry).

Alan Watkins,

League tables, page 26

(Photograph omitted)